On Not Being a Burden

‘Being a burden’ has to be one of the biggest fears in our society.  We don’t want to reach the place where we can no longer control our own lives.  We don’t want to have to rely on anyone else.  We desperately don’t want to put anyone else out.

1 Thessalonians 2:9-13 (CEV)

My dear friends, you surely haven’t forgotten our hard work and hardships. You remember how night and day we struggled to make a living, so that we could tell you God’s message without being a burden to anyone. 10 Both you and God are witnesses that we were pure and honest and innocent in our dealings with you followers of the Lord.11 You also know we did everything for you that parents would do for their own children. 12 We begged, encouraged, and urged each of you to live in a way that would honor God. He is the one who chose you to share in his own kingdom and glory.

13 We always thank God that you believed the message we preached. It came from him, and it isn’t something made up by humans. You accepted it as God’s message, and now he is working in you.

Paul seems to make a big thing here about not having been a burden to the Thessalonians.  He is keen that they know that he was making his own living, not relying on them for income.

This is interesting.  Historically and generally the Methodist Church pays its ministers a stipend.  This is not a wage, but money paid to you so that you can meet living expenses without having to do other work, in essence so that you are free to fulfil your calling – a calling that the church has set you apart for.  So as someone who has lived off a stipend in the past, I have a bit of an uncomfortable wriggle in my seat at this point.  Though I hope I was no burden and fulfilled my calling!  I was also very grateful that was the case and realise how fortunate I was to be freed in such a way.

Anyway, I digress from the point.  This passage made me think about being a burden.  Specifically, are there times in which I am a burden to my community?  As someone with chronic illness, I can easily perceive myself as a burden.  I need help and lots of it, I rely on other people to do things that I would much rather prefer to be able to do for myself, I can’t offer all I long to. But I hope that is not truly being a burden and is incorporated as being part of a healthy community.

But are there other ways I can be a burden?  Being unhelpful?  Dragging others down by my attitude?  Being bolshy (a particular specialism of mine!)?   Not doing what I could?  Not sharing what I have?  Not letting others help me, when it would help them to do so?  Being protective of my gifts?  Letting others get on with things without helping?  Thinking I’m a special case?  I’m sure the list could go on.  These are ways of being a burden that are choices.  Decisions that make anyone a weight or a carrier of weight.

Am I a burden on my community?  On my church fellowship?  On the world?  Am I weighing down when I should be lifting up?  Expecting others to carry me, when I should be doing the carrying?  Or can I stand before God and his people in the knowledge that I do all I can in the best way I can for the service of him and the world?

We are called to be burden bearers, not burden makers.

Forgive me Lord,
the times I have got in the way,
held things back,
dragged things down
and not pulled my weight.

Forgive me when I have been a burden
to you,
your work,
my community
and ultimately myself.

Lord,
I want to be a burden bearer.
Show me how I can carry the weights of others,
the needs of my community,
the burdens of your world.

You are the great burden-bearer
who carries all our weights,
may I find my strength in you

Rescue Me

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So much is going wrong Lord,
who can I turn to,
where can I go?

Will you rescue me,
save me,
protect me?

Where are you God?
I can’t find you.
You are lost in the pain,
the frustration,
the anger
that builds inside me.

Guide me Lord,
lead me,
help me find my way
to you.
There will be protection,
as I find you
and myself in you.

When I can see clearly,
I know that you help me,
I know that I can trust you.
I take my courage
and rest
in you.

Psalm 43  (CEV)

A Prayer in Times of Trouble

43 Show that I am right, God!
Defend me against everyone
    who doesn’t know you;
    rescue me from each
    of those deceitful liars.
I run to you
    for protection.
Why have you turned me away?
    Why must enemies mistreat me
    and make me sad?

Send your light and your truth
    to guide me.
Let them lead me to your house
    on your sacred mountain.
Then I will worship
at your altar
    because you
    make me joyful.
You are my God,
    and I will praise you.
    Yes, I will praise you
    as I play my harp.

Why am I discouraged?
Why am I restless?
    I trust you!
And I will praise you again
    because you help me,
    and you are my God.

Knowing the Truth

Is how we think we are living and acting always the reality?

Are we kidding ourselves, or trying to convince others?  Or just telling people what they want to hear rather than how it really is?  Who are we fooling?  Who are we letting down?

Micah brings harsh words:

Micah 3:5-12 (CEV)

You lying prophets promise
security for anyone
    who gives you food,
but disaster for anyone
    who refuses to feed you.
Here is what the Lord says
    to you prophets:
“You will live in the dark,
far from the sight of the sun,
    with no message from me.
You prophets and fortunetellers
will all be disgraced,
    with no message from me.”

But the Lord has filled me
    with power and his Spirit.
I have been given the courage
    to speak about justice
and to tell you people of Israel
    that you have sinned.
So listen to my message,
    you rulers of Israel!
You hate justice
    and twist the truth.
10 You make cruelty and murder
    a way of life in Jerusalem.
11 You leaders accept bribes
    for dishonest decisions.
You priests and prophets
teach and preach,
    but only for money.

Then you say,
“The Lord is on our side.
    No harm will come to us.”
12 And so, because of you,
Jerusalem will be plowed under
    and left in ruins.
Thorns will cover the mountain
    where the temple now stands.

It’s easy to say the thing that makes you popular, the pronouncements that apparently bring reward and win friends.  But that is not what God is asking.

He asks his people to stand for truth and justice, to stop those causing misery, to not just tell people what they want to hear, but challenge what needs challenging in our communities – as we say in Yorkshire, to call a spade a spade, and not pussyfoot around issues.

It is not fair to let people carry on without challenging them and pointing out the better way.  It is not right to allow suffering without challenging it. To not challenge wrong is to collude.

This is not an excuse to go around proffering our opinion, sitting in judgement on people’s personal lives without looking at our own; it is a call to challenge institutional injustice.  This passage is particularly a call to the leaders to live and act in the right way, for  the prophets to say what God says, not what they think or are comfortable with.  If we don’t challenge, there is no opportunity for things to change.

What challenge should I be making about injustice, cruelty and living God’s ways?  And what about my life?  Am I doing and saying what God asks me, or busy sharing my opinions?

Lord,
you call me
to live your ways,
not be taken in
by what is popular
or profitable.

Lord,
you call me
to challenge injustice,
cruelty,
to stand by the truth.

I ask for your wisdom
to know which is which,
what to do,
how to act
and your strength
to do it.